In the numismatic world, a mule is a hybrid design born of
mismatched dies. Such hybrids are rare and highly sought after by collectors.
Among U.S. coins, some mules have achieved legendary status. The
most prominent of these would be the 14 Sacagawea dollar planchets
struck by a Washington quarter dollar obverse die and a Sacagawea
dollar reverse die.
Particularly fascinating are those mules that display a design on
one face that was never intended for a coin. The design could be that
of a token, medal, counterstamp or cancellation die.
Probably the best known example among foreign coins is the 2000
Canada Millennium series “Map Mule” 25-cent coin. The obverse is the
one normally used for this series and features the bust of Queen
Elizabeth. The reverse face of each coin carries a design normally
seen on the Royal Canadian Mint medal that accompanies the 12-coin
25-cent piece Mint set produced in that year. The design features a
map of Canada constructed from maple leaves.
All evidence indicates that this mule was the result of human
error and not a “midnight special.” They are relatively numerous (more
than 400 by some estimates) and they were found in Mint sets
distributed through normal channels.
The second mule presented here is no accident. It’s a 2006
ringed-bimetallic Chile 100-peso coin that pairs a normal reverse
design with the whimsical image of an owl wearing a bow tie and
tuxedo. The two designs are in medal alignment (both designs pointing
north). Chilean coins are normally struck in coin alignment (designs
pointing toward opposite cardinal directions).
This coin was acquired and aggressively investigated by Jeff
Ylitalo, who reported the results of his investigation in his
“Bi-Metallic Mania” column published in the January/February 2008
issue of Errorscope.
Through dogged detective work, Jeff tracked the owl motif to the
Bingo Begui gambling casino located in the city of Berazategui,
Argentina. Presumably, someone smuggled a casino token die into the
Santiago (Chile) Mint and installed it in a press set up to strike
Our last example comes from error dealer Fred Weinberg, who
allowed me to inspect it during the August 2013 American Numismatic
Association convention held in Rosemont, Ill. It combines a Kennedy
half dollar reverse design with an incuse obverse design consisting of
a few geometric shapes. Six short, thick, evenly-spaced rods point
radially toward the coin’s center. A symbol that looks like the letter
“U” sits between two of the rods. The meaning of these symbols is
entirely opaque. Faint patterns can be discerned in the floor of each
impression, but I could not determine what, if anything, they represent.
The reverse face is weakly struck. The raised elements studding
the surface of the opposing nonsense die provided the only resistance
to the impact of the normal reverse die.
It’s difficult to declare any weak strike genuine, as there are so
few areas where microscopic die characteristics are clearly shown.
Nevertheless, in this case I can voice no strong objection to
assertions of authenticity. The reverse design looks convincing in
those scattered areas where the edge of the design meets a well-struck
field. Moreover, this coin was part of a large lot of indisputably
genuine Mint errors, all from the Denver Mint. Finally, this
particular half dollar was just one occupant of a stack of bizarre
half dollar errors. All of them were weakly struck, but incorporated
other unexpected features. Some showed the same pattern of geometric
shapes, but much more weakly impressed and mixed with normal raised
reverse design elements. Several were multi-struck, with rotation
between strikes. Finally, several of the half dollars were weakly
struck, multi-struck, two-tailed mules.
It’s entirely possible that these half dollars were the result of
backroom shenanigans by Denver Mint employees.
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